the last thing i needed to complete the 2014 venture vermont challenge was "build a fire without using matches."
i'm pretty sure that a lighter does not count for the challenge.
i learned how to use a bow drill in college, so i thought it would be fun and easy to use a hand lens to do it.
it turns out that the lens on my orienteering compass isn't strong enough, nor is the lens on a little "survival tool" i had in the basement. i tried a 50mm camera lens, and i was able to focus the light sufficiently to get a tiny pinprick of burning and i as able to char an area of my base, AND i was also able to melt wax around a candle wick, but i really had nothing going.
word about procedure: since i was only making fire for demonstration purposes and not actually starting a campfire, i figured that any transferrable or sustained flame would do, since one you had a candle lit or a small flame going, it wouldn't be hard at all to use that like a match flame.
plus i'm not working with a fireplace, which would have helped. instead i picked a small slat of hardwood and decided to make a small flame on top of that.
it made things both easier and more difficult; there was no protection from wind and only a small surface to work on, but i was getting practiced at focusing the sunlight on that one spot.
weeks went by.
i do not even want to know what my neighbors thought of me, out on the lawn, practicing to build fire on nearly every sunny day.
finally i broke down and bought a good-sized magnifying glass at the hardware store.
i got a good sized area of smolder by now, but still no transferrable or sustainable flame.
i kept modifying my tinder.
yesterday i settled on a little cup like structure made of corrugated cardboard, some torn bits of cardboard and paper, and on top of that a little chimney thing made of rolled up corrugated cardboard with bits of wood shavings jammed in.
i was able to get a good smolder as usual but i was not hopeful of getting any actual flame.
and then i noticed: the smolder was active. the breeze was just right for fanning it apparently and the cup of cardboard held in just enough heat and the chimney had just enough draw and i smoked and smoked and smoked and the whole thing got browner and browner and then all of a sudden about twenty minutes in the whole thing BURST into flame.
so. a tiny little fire, but an unqualified success.